Haywood tourism authority reports robust growth

A lagging recovery from the Great Recession and the continuing loss of a major tourist attraction in Maggie Valley haven’t slowed growth of the tourism industry in Haywood County. 

“It’s good,” said Lynn Collins, executive director of the Haywood County Tourism Development Authority. “Our year-to-date budget is up 17 percent over last year.”

Collins said the growth was due to a combination of factors, including increased marketing efforts by the TDA as well as some establishments raising their rates. 

The TDA collects a 4 percent nightly room occupancy tax from businesses that provide lodgings; revenue from that tax is a key indicator of the vitality of the industry, as those who spend a night or two in Haywood County also purchase goods and services and pay sales taxes. 

All five of the TDA’s jurisdictions posted double-digit growth. Year-to-date revenue in Maggie Valley and in Canton is up 11 percent. In Waynesville, it’s up 20 percent. 

Maggie Valley collects about 50 percent of all TDA revenue, and Waynesville collects about 30 percent, so increases in those two areas account for much of the overall increase and demonstrate not only stability, but expansion. 

The surprising story, however, continues to be the progress of Lake Junaluska and Clyde.

Although tiny Clyde only collects 2 percent of TDA revenues, its revenue is currently up 70 percent. 

“When you look at such a small area, small increases can have a huge impact,” said Lyndon Lowe, chairman of the TDA. 

Lowe cited two local establishments — the 200-acre Majors Estate and Buffalo Creek Vacations — as driving that growth. 

Buffalo Creek Vacations, off N.C. 209 and Riverside Drive, has since 2007 offered rustic accommodations on a bison ranch, ranging from $145 to $325 a night, but since purchasing and renovating two retired cabooses from Seaboard Coast Lines, they’ve attracted major media attention, including articles from both ABC News and financial website The Street. 

“Because it’s such a unique location, they have gotten a lot of publicity,” said Lowe. 

At Lake Junaluska, recent improvements and a change in the tax-exempt status of the accommodations have propelled revenue upward by just over 100 percent. 

“They also just have a phenomenal team that keeps growing under the leadership of [Director of Advancement] Ken Howle,” Lowe said. “He’s phenomenal in leading that group to continue to grow.”

Collins says that continuing to grow TDA revenue involves simply staying the course. 

“We have to continue our marketing, with good strong companies like (S.C.-based) Crawford Strategy, where we get good return on investment,” Collins said. “That has helped us tremendously, know where we’re getting our best value for marketing dollars.”

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